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Ukraine on Edge

Everything You Wanted to Know about Crimea But Were Afraid to Ask

March 2nd 2014

Russian troops in Crimea

The situation in Ukraine remains incredibly tense, despite Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev and the establishment of an interim government in the capital.

On February 27, masked gunmen seized control of the regional parliament buildings in Simferopol, capital of the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea, and raised the Russian tricolor.

The Crimean peninsula, long associated in the West with Russia thanks to events like the Crimean War in 1854-1855 and the Yalta conference at the end of World War II, was once a part of the Soviet-era Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, but became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. Today, Russians form an ethnic majority in Crimea, alongside significant minorities of Ukrainians and the Turkic Crimean Tatars.

To get a better understanding of the situation in Crimea and Ukraine generally, I spoke with Charles E. King, Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University and a specialist on Ukraine, Crimea, and Russia. He is the author of Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams.

Why was Crimea handed over to Ukraine in 1954?

Well, there’s still a lot of debate about why that actually happened, but we have to be very clear about this – it wasn’t handed to Ukraine. The administrative boundaries were changed so that Crimea became a part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Read more ..


Russia and the Ukraine

The Budapest Memorandum And Its Relevance To Crimea

March 1st 2014

Black Sea fleet

With tensions rising in Crimea and pro-Russian forces controlling the peninsula's main airports, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called on Russia to "not violate the Budapest Memorandum." So what is the "Budapest Memorandum" and what does it have to do with Crimea?

What exactly is the "Budapest Memorandum"
The "Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances" is a diplomatic memorandum that was signed in December 1994 by Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

It is not a formal treaty, but rather, a diplomatic document under which signatories made promises to each other as part of the denuclearization of former Soviet republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Under the memorandum, Ukraine promised to remove all Soviet-era nuclear weapons from its territory, send them to disarmament facilities in Russia, and sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Ukraine kept these promises. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

"Iran Deal," May be Washington’s Gravest Foreign Policy Mistake

February 28th 2014

Iran Nuclear Equipment centrifuges

The Obama administration, in its first and second terms, has committed strategic mistakes in the Middle East which will undermine U.S. national and security interests for many years, even under subsequent administrations after 2016.

 
The damage done is severe, and a remedy seems out of reach unless earth shattering changes are applied to Washington’s foreign policy—either under the incumbent’s administration or the next. The common core of U.S. strategic mistakes has been the perception of partners in the region since day one of the post-Bush presidency. While Bush’s narrative on backing pro-democracy forces was right on track, the bureaucracy’s actions betrayed the White House’s global aim. By the time the Obama administration installed itself on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2009, little had been accomplished by the Bush bureaucrats in regards to identifying these pro-democracy forces and supporting them. When the current administration replaced Bush, however, civil society groups in the Middle East were systematically abandoned—aid to their liberal forces was cut off and engagement with the radicals became priority. The mistakes of the Bush bureaucracy became the official policy of the Obama administration.
Read more ..

Broken Government

Dave Camp's One Huge Tax Problem

February 28th 2014

IRS building

Representative Dave Camp, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, released his tax-reform plan yesterday. Here are the four best elements of the plan, the three worst -- and its biggest missed opportunity.

     Let's start with the good stuff:
--The plan cuts taxes on business investment. Those taxes are now higher than in any other developed country, which encourages companies to invest abroad rather than in the U.S. The Camp plan changes those incentives, which ought to mean more capital domestically -- and, in the long run, higher wages. It would be even stronger on this front if it didn't drag out how long it takes for businesses to write off investments.

--It ends the tax deduction for state and local taxes. That deduction is a subsidy from people in low-tax states to those in high-tax ones. It also puts a federal thumb on the scales in the debate over how big state and local governments should be. Camp is right to seek its end. Read more ..


The Battle for Iraq

Battle Lines Drawn in Iraq’s Anbar Province

February 27th 2014

Iraqi Forces

Since the New Year, Iraq’s Anbar province has been wracked with violence as tribal militias, Iraqi government forces, and the al-Qaeda inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have fought for control of key cities in the region.

Though the causes behind this current round of violence are multi-faceted, its outbreak can roughly be traced to December 28, when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dispatched troops to Ramadi to arrest Ahmed al-Alwani, an MP in the Iraqi Parliament.

Al-Alwani is a Sunni politician with ties to an Anbar-based protest movement against the al-Malaki government, which protesters accuse of unfairly targeting its Sunni political opponents.  The movement has decried the mass imprisonment of political prisoners, suspect executions under Iraq’s controversial Article 4 of the Terror Law, and Sunni expulsions at the hands of government-sanctioned militias. Al-Alwani acted as the group's voice in parliament, and it follows that he was likely targeted in an effort to stem criticism towards what many Sunnis believe to be an increasingly authoritarian and sectarian prime minister.

These events corresponded with a substantial increase in activity from the Anbar-based ISIS – an al-Qaeda affiliated militant group formed during the US occupation of Iraq.  Owing to its involvement in the Syrian civil war, recruitment and funding have spiked through 2013, allowing it to carry out more sophisticated bombing campaigns in Baghdad and Shiite strongholds in Iraq. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

Who Might Lead Ukraine?

February 26th 2014

Ukraine

The ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych marks a resounding victory for Ukraine's pro-European protesters after their deadly, three-month standoff with the government. But it also plunges the country into new political uncertainty.

As the opposition-dominated parliament scrambles to work out who is in charge, speculation is rife about who will emerge as the new leaders of Ukraine and its 45 million people.

Oleksandr Turchynov
Ukraine's parliament overwhelmingly elected its speaker as interim president on February 23, just one day after throwing out Yanukovych.

Turchynov, a close confident of Yulia Tymoshenko, will serve as president until a presidential election on May 25.

A former head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), he is a leading member of her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party whose political career has been closely intertwined with Tymoshenko's.

Turchynov is a Baptist -- setting him apart from the traditionally Orthodox and Catholic majority -- and a prolific writer, whose psychological thriller "Illusion of Fear" was made into a film and submitted as the country's entry for the Academy Award for best foreign-language film in 2008. Read more ..


Ukraine on Edge

Turning Revolution to Recovery in Tumultuous Ukraine

February 25th 2014

The uprising in Kiev has apparently reached its conclusion. President Viktor Yanukovich and the opposition reached an agreement, negotiated by the Polish, German and French foreign ministers. The parliament is now effectively in charge, deciding who will be ministers and when elections will be held, whether to dismiss judges and so on. It isn't clear whether the parliament can fire the sitting president without impeachment and trial, but all of this is now moot. What is interesting is that the Polish, French and German foreign ministers negotiated an outcome that, for practical purposes, ignored the Constitution of Ukraine. It sets an interesting precedent. But for Ukraine, the constitution didn't have the patina of tradition that a true constitution requires, and few will miss Yanukovich.

The question now is whether all of this makes any real difference in Ukraine or the world. There is a new temporary leadership, although it is still factionalized and the leaders of the factions have not fully emerged. The effect of hostile gunfire will forge unity in Kiev for a while, but in due course, ideology, ambition and animosity will re-emerge. That will make governing Ukraine as difficult as in the past, particularly because the differences among the neo-Nazis, the liberals and groups in between -- all of which manned the barricades -- are profound. A government of national unity will be difficult to form. Read more ..


The Battle for Syria

The Geneva II Tragic Charade

February 24th 2014

Bomb Damage

It is hard to imagine that representatives of the 30 countries that assembled in Geneva actually believed that they could find a political solution to the Syrian civil war. Given the differing strategic interests in Syria of the powers within and outside the region, reaching a consensus to end the crisis at this juncture is beyond the realm of possibility. The conditions on the ground in Syria and the balance of power between the rebels and the Assad regime must first be altered on behalf of the rebels in order to force Assad to change his calculation before any political solution can be formulated.

President Obama may strongly embrace the agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons or seek a political solution by holding the Geneva II conference. Unfortunately and predictably, the chemical deal worked only to strengthen Assad as it prevented an American attack and gave him more time to consolidate his gains. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

The Politics of the Palestinian Right of Return

February 24th 2014

Dome-of-the-Rock

US-backed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are entering a critical period. With reports suggesting Israeli acceptance of the 1967 lines and land swaps, what about Palestinian concessions? Two issues are paramount: the 'right of return' and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently stated, "Let me put it simply: the right of return is a personal decision. What does this mean? That neither the PA, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu-Mazen [Abbas], nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return."

Jamil Mizer, a member of the political bureau of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) underscored the issue saying, "there is talk about the liquidation of the Palestinian refugee cause, the return of hundreds of thousands to the lands occupied in 1948, and the dismantling of the right of return of over six million Palestinian refugees in the camps, in exile and in the diaspora, who are waiting for their moment to return to the homes and lands from which they were expelled". Read more ..


Burma on Edge

Analysts Fear Burma's Reforms Stalling

February 23rd 2014

Ethnic strife

Analysts said there are fears Burma's program of political and economic reforms are stalling before the 2015 national elections.  Bangkok rights concerns are growing as the foreign business community remains upbeat over Burma's long term economic potential.

The Asian Development (ADB) said Burma can become a middle income country by 2030 if it is able to sustain economic growth rates of more than six percent a year.

The economic and political reforms begun in 2011 have led most nations to set aside long standing economic sanctions against military rule in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar.

Australian lawyer and consultant on Burma John Hancock said foreign investors recognize Burma's potential. "It is just remarkable what has happened there in the last five, six, seven years.  The opening up has been just quite remarkable.  The will to change, the will to move forward, is quite amazing.  There is such potential there now.  Everyone wants to be there, everyone is willing to throw money in there to support their interest to get on the fast track," he said.            Read more ..


Venezuela on Edge

Toward a Peaceful Solution for Venezuela’s Crisis

February 22nd 2014

Caracas at night

Protests over growing scarcity and criminal violence in Venezuela are entering their 10th day. They have been met with violent government repression and censorship. International support is needed to convene the actors in this crisis to engage in dialogue and craft a peaceful outcome.

On February 12, nation-wide marches were convened by the political opposition and civil society to protest growing scarcity and criminal violence. While they began peacefully, they ended in violent confrontations between police, pro-government criminal gangs (known as colectivos) and some protestors. Public property in downtown Caracas was damaged, three persons are known to have died from gun shots, and over 70 were arrested by police, intelligence and military forces. The government and opposition have traded charges on who is responsible for the damage and the deaths, although subsequent reporting identified the shooters as government agents. Remarkably, the only broadcaster carrying live feed from the protest, NTN24, was an international channel, and was censored by the Maduro administration as events were unfolding. In the wake of the protest, the government ordered the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez on the charge of fomenting violence. Read more ..


Education on Edge

Common Core: Teachers Unions Think Again

February 21st 2014

school kids

In recent days, there has been a spate of news stories reporting that the nation’s teachers’ unions are having second thoughts about the Common Core State Standards — which seek to set nationwide standards for what K–12 students should learn in each grade in math and in English-language arts.

The two major unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, were among the broad array of organizations that endorsed Common Core in 2009, when it was just words on paper. However, as rubber has met road with Common Core implementation, the unions have had second thoughts.

On Wednesday, Politico’s Stephanie Simon reported: “The nation’s largest teachers union is pulling back on its once-enthusiastic support of the Common Core academic standards, labeling their rollout ‘completely botched.’” In a letter to his membership, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel wrote, “NEA members have a right to feel frustrated, upset and angry about the poor commitment to implementing the standards correctly.” Van Roekel said that it would be easy to just oppose Common Core, but that the NEA is not ready to take that route. Meanwhile, the New York State United Teachers (an AFT affiliate) won a multi-year delay in the implementation of consequences attached to the forthcoming Common Core tests. And last November, AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “You think Obamacare is bad? The implementation of the Common Core is far worse.”
What should we make of all this? Four things, really. Read more ..


Education on Edge

What Do We Know About Professional Development?

February 20th 2014

Special Ed Teacher

Do we know how to improve teaching?  I don’t mean tinkering around the edges—making a particular history lesson better or getting an individual teacher to alter his or her instructional strategies—but a lasting, substantive change, one that reshapes the profession.  Do we know how to transform bad teachers into adequate teachers?  Can we take teachers who are merely adequate and make them good—even outstanding? 

Those questions are especially relevant right now.  The burden of answering them affirmatively falls on professional development (PD).  All levels of government spend a huge amount of money on teachers’ professional development; it’s a mainstay of federal education policy.  Expenditures on Title II of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (The Eisenhower Program), mostly devoted to PD, are budgeted at about $2.3 billion in 2014.  More than $450 million of i3 grant money spent from 2010-2012 went to PD.  Advocates of school reforms that affect teaching and learning inevitably rely on PD to implement their preferred changes.  The prominent contemporary example is the Common Core.  Advocates of the Common Core are counting on PD to equip teachers with the instructional capacity to actualize the standards. Read more ..


The Ukraine on Edge

How Ukraine Crisis Went From Compromise To Bloodshed In Just Hours

February 19th 2014

Flames in Cairo

As recently as February 17, when an amnesty for hundreds of demonstrators went into effect, Ukraine's crisis looked like it was deescalating. But beginning on February 18 at least 25 people died.

Here are five things to know about why things went bad so fast, and where they might go from here.

What sparked the lethal violence Ukraine?
Tensions soared on February 18 when opposition lawmakers urged parliament to revert to Ukraine's 2004 constitution, which would offer President Viktor Yanukovych fewer powers, but were rebuffed. At the same time, some 20,000 protesters marched on the parliament building in support of the opposition deputies and were stopped by police in a violent confrontation. Read more ..


America on Edge

Americans' Focus on Private Affairs Leads to Indifference to Foreign Affairs

February 18th 2014

Recently, several events took place that were important to their respective regions and potentially to the world. Russian government officials suggested turning Ukraine into a federation, following weeks of renewed demonstrations in Kiev. The Venezuelan government was confronted with violent and deadly protests. Kazakhstan experienced a financial crisis that could have destabilized the economies of Central Asia. Russia and Egypt inked a significant arms deal. Right-wing groups in Europe continued their political gains.

Any of these events had the potential to affect the United States. At different times, lesser events have transfixed Americans. This week, Americans seemed to be indifferent to all of them. This may be part of a cycle that shapes American interest in public affairs. The decision to raise the debt ceiling, which in the last cycle gripped public attention, seemed to elicit a shrug. Read more ..


The Nuclear Edge

Don't Junk New START

February 17th 2014

Ballitic Missile

U.S. Representatives Trent Franks and Doug Lamborn, writing in The Moscow Times on Feb. 12, called for the U.S. to withdraw from the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or New START. Their arguments do not stand up to serious scrutiny. Continued observance of New START is in the interest of the U.S. and Russia.

New START requires that each country reduce its strategic arms to no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads and no more than 700 deployed strategic missiles and bombers. These limits take full effect in February 2018.

The treaty constrains only deployed strategic weapons. It does not limit reserve strategic warheads or non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. and Russia have total arsenals numbering about 4,500 nuclear weapons each. Read more ..


NAFTA on Edge

How to Strengthen NAFTA’s Next 20 Years

February 16th 2014

NAFTA demonstration Teamsters

Next week, President Obama will make his third trip to Mexico in as many years to attend the North American Leaders’ Summit alongside Canadian Prime Minister Harper and Mexican President Peña Nieto. Amidst a flurry of retrospectives on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the summit offers a timely opportunity to ask two questions: 1) What is the current state of North American trade? and 2) What can the three countries do together to position the continent for success in the global economy over the next 20 years?

Our recent report, Metro North America, offers some answers to the first question. Trade volumes between the United States and Canada and Mexico are massive and growing, due in no small part to the fact that manufacturers now treat the continent as one seamless market for research, design, production, and distribution.   Read more ..


The 2016 Race

A Too-Early Look at the 2016 Presidential Race

February 15th 2014

Hillary

Of course it’s too early to talk about 2016. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way ... The most interesting dynamic about the presidential race so far is that the Democrats are behaving like Republicans — and vice versa.

Since 1940, with the arguable exception of Barry Goldwater, Republicans have nominated the guy next in line. Thomas Dewey almost beat Wendell Willkie for the nomination in 1940, so in 1944 — and 1948 — it was his turn. Dwight Eisenhower, whom both parties wanted as their nominee, was a special case, given that whole invading-Europe-and-defeating-Hitler thing.

But Richard Nixon had been Ike’s vice president in 1960, and in 1968 Republicans believed he had been the victim of John F. Kennedy’s stolen election, so they nominated him again. Gerald Ford was Nixon’s VP and the sitting president in 1976. Still, Ronald Reagan almost beat him in the primaries, so the next time around the Gipper got a shot.

In 1988, Reagan’s VP, George H. W. Bush, had his turn. Bob Dole (Ford’s running mate in ’76) had almost beaten Bush in ’88, so he got the nod in ’96. George W. Bush was nominated in 2000, in part because the rank and file felt nostalgic for his dad during the sordid Clinton years. In 2008, John McCain cashed in his runner-up coupon for the nomination. And in 2012, Mitt Romney did likewise. Read more ..


Inside Politics

Billionaires Boost Republican Governors Group Past Democrates in Fundraising

February 14th 2014

Chris Christie

The Republican Governors Association heads into a crucial election year having outraised its Democratic counterpart $50.3 million to $28 million in 2013, thanks largely to donations from corporations and billionaires like industrialist David Koch.

Koch, hedge fund chief Paul Singer, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, and Leslie Wexner, CEO of the Limited Brands, each donated more than $1 million to the group last year while tobacco company Reynolds American, Koch Industries and health insurer Wellpoint each contributed more than $500,000, according to Internal Revenue Service records posted Friday.

The cash advantage is welcome given the challenges facing the RGA’s leader.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the RGA chairman, is embroiled in an ongoing scandal in his home state that could make it hard for him to bring in cash and votes in a year when 36 governors’ races are on the ballot.

With members of his party calling for him to step down, Christie may have trouble matching the Midas touch of former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who raised a staggering $87 million to help the party capture five new governorships in 2010.

In addition, two of the RGA’s most reliable and generous donors — Texans Bob Perry and Harold Simmons — died in 2013. Perry was the RGA’s most generous benefactor, contributing more than $12 million over the past five years, half the total in 2010 alone.

While the RGA will likely still outraise the Democratic Governors Association, it will have to contend with a motivated union political machine that combined with the DGA actually accounted for more outside spending than the RGA in 2012. And money certainly doesn’t guarantee success at the ballot box. Read more ..


Taiwan and China

5 Faulty Assumptions about Taiwan

February 13th 2014

taiwanese semiconductor plant

The government-to-government talks between Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, and Zhang Zhijun, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, are significant, but not for reasons many think. Indeed, the talks are most noteworthy because they happened at all. A key element of China's Taiwan policy has been to isolate the island and get all countries to accept the Chinese position that Taiwan is not a country, but a province of China.

Now Taiwan and China have had government-to-government talks. China has moved a step closer to accepting Taiwan's de facto independent status as a country with its own national government. The substance of the talks will be far less noteworthy as Taiwan does not want to make any concessions or agreements on political issues such as its international status. Read more ..


Iran's Nukes

Iranian Navy and Its Largely Symbolic Display in the Atlantic Ocean

February 13th 2014

Tehran announced Feb. 8 that it had dispatched a frigate and a supply ship to the North Atlantic Ocean, where they will approach U.S. maritime borders. This is not the first time the Iranians have announced their intent to deploy naval vessels close to the United States. Iran made two such declarations in 2011 but never followed through.

However, following the most recent announcement, Iranian Adm. Afshin Rezayee Haddad said the Iranian fleet is actually underway, already approaching the South Atlantic Ocean through waters off the coast of South Africa. The Iranian decision to deploy naval vessels to the North Atlantic is largely symbolic; it does not pose any real military risk. Iran will use the deployment to show the flag in a non-threatening manner, looking to appease its hard-liners who are dubious about the U.S.-Iran nuclear talks. Read more ..


Broken Government

Potholed U.S. Roads Are a Creation of Washington

February 12th 2014

Bridge Failure

Another winter storm is slated to bury the nation's capital in snow and ice later this week. It's likely to shut down the federal government and schools, and make road conditions dangerous. The bigger problem, however, will become clear when the snow clears: fresh potholes and frost heaves will make driving more hazardous and expensive.

Americans already pay $67 billion in extra repairs due to poorly-maintained roads, and weather is partially to blame. But mostly it's Washington itself-where an outdated funding approach and political inaction ensure the continued deterioration of roads, bridges, and tunnels.

Funding for the expansive U.S. Interstate Highway System is falling dramatically while maintenance needs are rising. From its inception in 1956, the network has relied on revenue from state and federal gasoline and diesel taxes, which are levied on a cents-per-gallon basis. Read more ..


Palestinians on Edge

Why Jordanians Worry about the Two-State Solution

February 11th 2014

King Abdullah

It has been said that Jordan is the only Arab country in which Palestinians have "full citizenship." That is less than a complete truth. As Secretary of State John Kerry pursues his plan for a "two state solution," the insecurity of Palestinian legal status in Jordan is emerging.

Israel's vociferous objection to removing the IDF from the Jordan River line in the West Bank is easy to understand. Maj. Gen. Ya'akov Amidror, former National Security Advisor said bluntly, "Only Israeli forces can make us sure that we will not find ourselves living with another Gaza Strip in Ramallah, which is five miles from the Israeli parliament in the city of Jerusalem. This is so important for us that we are not going to give it away."

The Jordanians, too, are adamant about rejecting the proposal. There is close security cooperation between the Israeli and Jordanian security services. The Jordanians are capable and dedicated to preventing infiltration of operatives and weapons into the West Bank through its territory. The Israelis are equally dedicated to border security along the Jordan River that helps keep the Kingdom secure. But more is at work.  Read more ..


Russia on Edge

Russia's Interesting Twists and Turns in the Geopolitical Dance

February 11th 2014

The struggle for some of the most strategic territory in the world took an interesting twist this week. Last week we discussed what appeared to be a significant shift in German national strategy in which Berlin seemed to declare a new doctrine of increased assertiveness in the world -- a shift that followed intense German interest in Ukraine. This week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, in a now-famous cell phone conversation, declared her strong contempt for the European Union and its weakness and counseled the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine to proceed quickly and without the Europeans to piece together a specific opposition coalition before the Russians saw what was happening and took action. Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

An Obamacare Report Card

February 10th 2014

No Obamacare

Perhaps the most unpleasant aspect of my otherwise quite enjoyable job as a college professor has been the requirement to assign grades to students. Given that we’re now about halfway through implementation of the Affordable Care Act—which even President Obama is happy to call “Obamacare”—it seems appropriate to assign midterm grades. These are not intended as a forecast of the final grade; moreover, implementation of Obamacare is the responsibility of many thousands of individuals, not just one. Nevertheless, as President Truman’s legendary Oval Office desk sign reminds us, “The buck stops here” when it comes to presidential leadership. So whether President Obama likes it or not, the public and historians are likely to base their assessment of his performance on how well his “signature piece of domestic legislation” is implemented. Read more ..

The Defense Edge

Drones: Old, New, Borrowed, Blue

February 9th 2014

MQ-1 Predator Drone

In 1907, just four years after the Wright Brothers had flown a few hundred yards across the beaches of North Carolina, H. G. Wells imagined The War in the Air. In Wells’ dark fantasy, the German Empire employs a fleet of airships to preemptively attack the United States, its only potential scientific, industrial, and geopolitical peer. The German target was New York.

Something had dropped from the aeroplane, something that looked small and flimsy. A little man was sprinting along the sidewalk within half a dozen yards, and two or three others and one woman were bolting across the roadway. They were odd little figures, so very small were they about the heads, so very active about the elbows and legs. It was really funny to see their legs going. Foreshortened, humanity has no dignity....

Then blinding flames squirted out in all directions from the point of impact, and the little man who had jumped became, for an instant, a flash of fire and vanished—vanished absolutely. The people running out into the road took preposterous clumsy leaps, then flopped down and lay still, with their torn clothes smouldering into flame.... In this manner the massacre of New York began. She was the first of the great cities of the Scientific Age to suffer by the enormous powers and grotesque limitations of aerial warfare. Read more ..


Egypt on Edge

Arab Media Exposes Terrorist Connection of Al Qaeda to Muslim Brotherhood

February 8th 2014

Mohammed Morsi

As former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's trials continue, it's enlightening to consider what is likely to be one of the centerpieces: longstanding accusations that Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party worked with foreign terrorist organizations, including Al Qaeda, against the national security of Egypt. According to a story circulated by Morning Star News (http://morningstarnews.org), based on these accusations of high treason, Morsi and others could face the death penalty. Concerning some of the more severe allegations, one of Egypt's most widely distributed and read newspapers, Al Watan, recently published what it said were recorded conversations between Morsi and Muhammad Zawahiri, Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri's brother.

In these reports, Watan repeatedly asserts that Egyptian security and intelligence agencies confirmed (or perhaps leaked out) the recordings. Much of the substance of the alleged conversations is further corroborated by events that occurred during Morsi's one-year-rule, most of which were reported by a variety of Arabic media outlets, though not by Western media. Read more ..


Brazil on Edge

Brazil Revamps an Aircraft Carrier and Sets Sail on an Uncertain Geopolitical Course

February 8th 2014

An obscure fact of Latin American military affairs is that the Brazilian Navy possesses its own aircraft carrier. The vessel, now five decades old, is currently undergoing repairs so that it can serve for at least a decade more. Nevertheless, given the fast pace of South American geopolitics and geosecurity affairs, serious questions should be raised whether or not Brazil actually needs a carrier in its fleet.

The Carrier

Brazil acquired its carrier from France in November 2000: the vessel is a non-nuclear, 36,000 ton, Clemenceau-type carrier, which was constructed in the early 1960s.The carrier, originally known as the Foch while it flew the French flag, “entered the dry-dock stage in Saint-Nazaire in 1957 and was launched three years later. It was towed to the Brest arsenal for completion. It entered active service in 1963 and ceased to be armed by the French Navy in 2000, when the Charles de Gaulle CVN came into service.” Read more ..


Broken Government

Once More Unto the Breach…of the Still-Useless Debt Ceiling

February 7th 2014

Congress-senate

If you have fond memories of summer 2011 or fall 2013, do we have a treat for you: in February 2014 our nation will be taking a walk down recent-memory lane by asking, yet again, whether Congress will derail our economic recovery by convincing the world there is a serious possibility that we might fail to pay our debts as promised.

The compromise reached to end the shutdown back in October suspended the debt ceiling until today—February 7.  Most observers originally expected that we would have at least a couple more months to muddle through with “extraordinary measures” (Treasury accounting tricks of various sorts), especially since the last time around they bought us nearly 5 months after the reinstatement of the debt ceiling (from May 18, 2013, to mid-October).  But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has now said that we only have until the end of February before we run into real trouble, since refunds for early tax filers flow out of the Treasury during this month. Read more ..


Germany on Edge

Germany Gets Cozier with Islam

February 6th 2014

Click to select Image

Germany's new coalition government is signaling that it wants better relations with the country's Muslim community.

In a series of newspaper, television and radio interviews, Thomas de Maizière—who was recently sworn in as Germany's new interior minister—has announced a series of pro-Muslim initiatives apparently designed to defuse escalating tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims there.

Among other policy initiatives, Maizière says the government plans to change German immigration laws to make it easier for Muslim immigrants to obtain dual-citizenship and thus to maintain religious and cultural links to their countries of origin. Read more ..


Argentina on Edge

Buenos Aires: A Tale of Two Cities

February 5th 2014

Inequality is nothing new in Latin America; the region has long occupied the unenviable position of being considered the most unequal area in the world. However, the human face of inequality is nowhere more apparent than in Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Buenos Aires is a study in contrasts: the splendid Libertador Street, punctuated with art museums, luxury malls, and expensive apartments, stands at points directly across the train tracks from the improvised housing of the villas miserias, or shantytowns. Below Rivadavia Street, as the noted Argentine novelist Jorge Luis Borges put it, “the South begins,” a land of impoverished suburbs and slums.

Buenos Aires is a maze of overlapping jurisdictions. The metro area numbers some 13 million people, nearly 40 percent of the country’s population, but the city’s mayor, Mauricio Macri, presides over a jurisdiction which includes just 3 million residents. Read more ..


Geopolitical Edge

Germany Takes a More Assertive Role in Foreign Policy

February 4th 2014

Stratfor
By

The Ukrainian crisis is important in itself, but the behavior it has elicited from Germany is perhaps more important. Berlin directly challenged Ukraine's elected president for refusing to tighten relations with the European Union and for mistreating Ukrainians who protested his decision. In challenging President Viktor Yanukovich, Berlin also challenged Russia, a reflection of Germany's recent brazen foreign policy.

Since the end of World War II, Germany has pursued a relatively tame foreign policy. But over the past week, Berlin appeared to have acknowledged the need for a fairly dramatic change. German leaders, including the chancellor, the president, the foreign minister and the defense minister, have called for a new framework that contravenes the restraint Germany has practiced for so long. They want Germany to assume a greater international role by becoming more involved outside its borders politically and militarily. Read more ..


Israelis and Palestinians

US Security Assurances and the End of UN Resolution 242

February 3rd 2014

Jerusalem-Temple and Wall

Secretary of State John Kerry and special envoy Martin Indyk have been meeting and talking with groups of American Jews in an effort to "sell" the interim deal Mr. Kerry plans to put on the table for Israel and the Palestinians. With Mr. Kerry acting as the "bad cop" and Mr. Indyk as the "good," they want the Americans to press the democratically elected government of Israel to accept the deal even if the Netanyahu government doesn't find it secure and responsible to do so. This is in keeping with the apparent belief in the administration that American Jews are both responsible for Israeli policy decisions and subject to them, but it is a poor way to approach American citizens and a very poor way to understand the independence of the government of Israel, which answers to its citizens. And here is why they are doing it. Read more ..


Battle for Syria

Syria Cheats

February 2nd 2014

Syria fighting injured baby

Tuesday, during the State of the Union Address, President Obama boasted that "American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria's chemical weapons are being eliminated." The assertion was premature. In early January, Syria's Bashar Assad regime indeed started the process of transferring its chemical weapons arsenal abroad. To date it's destroyed only 5 percent of its unconventional arsenal and it's unlikely Damascus will finish the job. Despite international commitments to the contrary, precedent suggests that Assad will retain a residual supply for future contingencies.

Like North Korea and Libya -- which famously violated international obligations on weapons of mass destruction -- there is good reason to believe that Syria will cheat on its own agreement with the United Nations to fully dispose of its chemical weapons arsenal.  Read more ..


Broken Healthcare

Much Better than Obamacare

January 31st 2014

Obamacare

The introduction of an Obamacare replacement plan by Republican senators Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Orrin Hatch (Utah) has given Obamacare’s apologists — who admittedly have had very tough duty over the past four years — a rare opportunity to get out of their defensive crouches and go on the attack. Not surprisingly, fast out of the gate has been Ezekiel Emanuel, who has a piece up at theNew York Times website claiming that the fatal flaw of the Republican senators’ plan is that it would raise taxes on millions of American households.

There are a couple of problems with Emanuel’s analysis. The first is not Emanuel’s fault: He based his assessment of the tax consequences on an imprecise description of the tax policy in the original write-up of the plan. That description said an upper limit would be placed on the tax preference for employer-paid health premiums at 65 percent of the average employer plan. But the policy the senators have actually adopted, as explained in a clarification, would place the upper limit at 65 percent of the cost of a very high-cost employer plan. In Obamacare terms, think of the fully loaded benefit package with very low cost-sharing. Setting the upper limit at this level would mean most employer plans would fall well below the cap, and only a relatively small percentage of the work force would see any changes in job-based coverage. Those who today have expensive employer plans that would be over the upper limit would see adjustments, of course, such as higher deductibles; but those adjustments wouldn’t take away their employer plans but would only bring them more in line with the coverage an average worker experiences. Read more ..


The Economy on Edge

What's Driving Turbulence In Emerging Markets?

January 30th 2014

Wall Street Meltdown

If there is one common denominator these days in emerging markets, it is turbulence, with many of these countries' economies having to contend with sliding currencies and stockmarket volatility. Here are five things to know about what's behind the turmoil.

How widespread is the turbulence in emerging markets?
Since the start of the year, investors have been fleeing emerging markets worldwide amid concerns about faltering economies and political unrest.

The turbulence is not felt in every emerging market but is widespread enough to talk of a global phenomenon.

Last week offered particularly dramatic examples. On January 24, Russia's ruble fell to its lowest level in almost five years against the US. dollar, while Turkey's lira fell by 1.6 percent in a single day.  At the same time, South Africa's rand slid to its weakest level since October 2008. And even Mexico’s peso, one of the stronger currencies in emerging markets, fell to its weakest level against the U.S. dollar since June. Read more ..


America's Darkest Edge

New Study Details Gun Injuries Suffered by Children

January 29th 2014

Sandy Hook Shooting

Every day in the United States, about 20 children are injured by firearms and require hospitalization, according to new research.

The research said that in 2009, there were 7,391 hospitalizations of victims under the age of 20 and that six percent of those admitted die as a result of their injuries.

“This study is a stark reminder of the devastating effects of gun violence,” said Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA and author of the book Gunfight. “Too often, we focus only on the number of people who die from gun violence. But so many who escape death also suffer lifelong injuries.”

The study says assaults accounted for the majority of hospitalizations, while the fewest were suicide attempts. Suicide attempts were the most likely to result in death. The most common types of firearm injuries were open wounds (52 percent); fractures (50 percent); and internal injuries of the thorax, abdomen or pelvis (34 percent), according to the study. Read more ..


Israel on Edge

The Legitimization of Terrorism

January 28th 2014

The tremendous success of the Palestinian propaganda machine is underexposed. No other refugee group has been as violent, or attracted such active political and financial support as the Palestinians. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons they refuse to stop their violence against Israel.  Taking advantage of wide-spread anti-Semitic (aka anti-Israeli) sentiments, the Palestinian propaganda machine has succeeded over more than five decades to live off many  hundreds of billions of dollars of outside support.

The millions of Syrian and Sudanese refugees, the survivors of the 2004 Tsunami, and the 17 million affected by super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, and millions of other displaced people who are trying to survive and rebuild get the headlines couple of days, sometimes weeks, get some token money and are then forgotten. Read more ..


Pakistan on Edge

Pakistan's Arab-Muslim Culture of Denial

January 28th 2014

Since 9/11, Islamist culture is seen to be synonymous with violence, misogyny and a pathological hatred for others; and, ironically, it has made Muslims themselves its most numerous victims. "Impure," or non-authentic Muslims, meant those whose Islam had been weakened by un-Islamic or non-Islamic values imported from the West, or contaminated by the Hindu culture of India.

Eventually political differences came to be viewed, by the measure of Islam, in terms of the "purity" and "impurity" of people. In the "Land of the Pure" [Urdu for Pakistan], those suspected of impurity must be cleansed, purged or driven out.

For Osama bin Laden there was a clear and unmistakable cultural divide separating the Arab-Muslim world from the West. The idea that there is a difference, perhaps even qualitative, in terms of culture between the West and the East is considered a scandal by those who are convinced that our highly interdependent world is headed in a direction where, at some point, cultures will converge, or their significance be so diminished that cultural differences will be merely a matter of curiosity. Read more ..


Security Edge

Chile and Peru Anxiously Await Far-Reaching International Court Decision

January 26th 2014

The events of this upcoming January 27, 2014 are likely to determine the short and long-term future regarding the relations between Peru and Chile. On that date, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will announce its ruling on a long-standing maritime dispute between the two South American coastal states.

The Dispute

In dispute is an area of approximately 38,000 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean. The nation that controls it will see great benefits to its fishing industry – the Peruvian media explains that this area is rich with sea life like the jurel and the anchoveta (of the anchovy family).The association of artisanal fishermen of Arica in Chile have claimed that if the aforementioned disputed territory is surrendered to Peru, they could lose 40% of their fishing territory.

Peru went to the ICJ to resolve this dispute in 2008; six years later, the court will finally give its verdict. A December 2013 ICJ press release solemnly declares that, “It is recalled that the judgements of the Court have binding force and are without appeal for the parties concerned.” Read more ..



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